Student corps preserves Blakely Harbor Park

(L-R) Student conservation corps members Tom Steckel and Dylan Skeffington remove ivy at Blakely Harbor Park. - Victoria Nguyen/Staff Photo
(L-R) Student conservation corps members Tom Steckel and Dylan Skeffington remove ivy at Blakely Harbor Park.
— image credit: Victoria Nguyen/Staff Photo

While many students spent their first few weeks of summer vacation sleeping in and catching up on much-needed rest, more than 20 current and former Bainbridge High School students put on their gardening gloves and went to work at Blakely Harbor Park.

The Bainbridge Student Conservation Corps, which has been more than a year in the making, began work June 21 with plans to finish Friday. BHS students work from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, removing English ivy and other invasive plants such as Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry.

“The project epitomizes the spirit of the island,” supervisor Barbara Trafton said. “They’re bringing their brains and their muscles. It’s like eating an elephant. You take one bite at a time. You set goals and you accomplish them.”

Trafton and Stephanie Ross worked as volunteer adult leaders, and have overseen the students’ efforts during the last two weeks.

The corps has received financial and capital support from the Bainbridge Metro Park and Recreation District, the Bainbridge Parks Foundation and the Association of Bainbridge Communities. More than $8,000 was raised through private donations. The funds provide $360 stipends for each student.

As the ivy grows upward, it thickens into coils which often appear to be a part of the tree. The ivy prevents trees from photosynthesizing, said Dan Hamlin, who has supervised the project for the district. By removing a middle section of the ivy, Hamlin said, the upper portions of the ivy will die.

Students use saws and other equipment provided by the park district to remove several feet of ivy from each tree, and to clear the ivy from the base.

“They’ve saved the tree,” Hamlin said. “What’s up there won’t be there in another month.”

Preserving the trees also protect wildlife habitats.

“If we come back each summer, after five years this place is going to look totally different than how it is now,” BHS graduate Cameron Stahl said. “All the ground cover is going to crowd out the ivy. Trees as they grow, they’re going to break free of the dead ivy.

“I think for a decent wage and to help the community anybody would come out here,” Stahl said. “It’s worth the time and the effort.”

Friendly competition – such as who can remove ivy the fastest – provides a lighthearted component to the serious task.

“I keep telling my friends today we saved 200 trees,” 2010 graduate Liz Leness said. “You don’t think that it makes that much of an impact just cutting six feet of ivy off of the base of trees. Especially to be the first group of students to get the first look at what we’re doing. To be able to show the work next year that we’ve done.”

In addition to conservation, the corps also aims to educate students, Ross said.

“It is connecting the work that they’re doing to something else,” Trafton said. “It’s not just brute force, it’s impactful. What they’re doing is all a part of this complicated whole.”

Guest speakers such as Mike Pratt, director of Wildlife Services at West Sound Wildlife Shelter, and Dana Coggon, Kitsap County Noxious Weed coordinator, have joined the group during their lunch breaks.

“The most important thing I’ve learned is about the whole ecosystem,” junior Sinclair Ball said. “It’s so interconnected. We’re puling ivy off the trees to save the fish and to provide habitat for the bugs that the fish eat. It’s just this huge web of things, just learning more about the whole circle and the whole system out here.”

The corps, which was assigned to zone six, exceeded expectations and completed the four-acre area in five and a half days.

“They’re getting to areas that haven’t been touched in years,” Hamlin said. “What we did was break the park into zones. In zone one we’re trying to get rid of the ivy altogether, but it’s the only zone we can attempt that in. In all the other zones our only goal is just to get it off the trees and shrubs and then we’ll maintain it at that level as we move through the park from east to west. We’ll change those strategies as we go. It’s a 20-year plan at best.”

The group has now moved onto the Macs Dam area and is working to ensure that ivy does not pull trees down and damage the salmon habitat.

Trafton designed the Student Conservation Corps as a long-running pilot, with the goal of continuing the project each summer. The group received enough funding to not only pay workers, but to set aside funds for next year as well.

“We’ve had people tell us it can’t be done,” Ross said. “I think if you go one step at a time, one tree at a time, and with energy and enthusiasm and commitment, it can all be done.”

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